When someone says hedgehog, what do you think of? Prickles and Sonic probably spring to mind. But there’s a lot more to these cute creatures than their quills. So Young Post spoke to Dr Michael Bradley, a vet from Stanley Veterinary Clinic, for a crash course on hedgehogs.
Before we start, it’s important to know the difference between the hedgehog and another prickly creature, the porcupine.
“If you have seen both a porcupine and a hedgehog you will never mix them up,” says Bradley.
“The average weight of a male African pygmy hedgehog, the species most commonly kept as a pet in Hong Kong, is 400-700g, with females being a little smaller. Porcupines on the other hand, are much bigger and heavier. The species we have in Hong Kong is the East Asian porcupine. They can weigh up to 2.5kg and can reach almost a metre long.”
So why do people mix them up?
“Both species have spines and are nocturnal but they are very different animals,” says Bradley. The two aren’t actually even related species.
Now, that’s cleared up, we can move onto hedgehogs. “The African pygmy hedgehog is native to West and Central Africa and can be found in a wide range of habitats including grasslands and suburban gardens.”
One fact that tends to surprise people is that hedgehogs aren’t completely covered in quills – their bellies are soft and fuzzy.
Another surprising fact is the range of sounds African pygmy hedgehogs make.
“They can ‘talk’ with an amazing variety of sneezes, squeals, grunts and snuffles,” says Bradley.
Unlike other species of hedgehog, the African pygmy doesn’t hibernate. Hibernation can actually be fatal for this species, because they haven’t stocked up on food. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try to hibernate if the temperature drops. That’s why hedgehog owners must make sure their hedgehog is kept in a warm place. If it’s too cold and a hedgehog starts to curl up, it means it is trying to go into hibernation.
That’s useful for anyone who doesn’t know much about hedgehogs, but Young Post didn’t forget to ask for a few tips for the hedgie enthusiasts who already own a prickly pet.
“Hedgehogs are best housed individually as they often fight if kept in groups,” advises Bradley. “And most people keep them in enclosures that are far too small. This often leads to obesity and serious foot problems due to a chronic lack of exercise. As with any cage for an animal, it is very hard for a cage to be too big but often they are far too small.”
Bradley also had a few words for hedgehog owners about illnesses.
“The most common problems we see in African Pygmy Hedgehogs relate to how they are kept. Animals that are fed too much, coupled with inactivity, can easily result in obesity. This can lead to a lot of health problems, including liver disease and arthritis. Fractures where a limb has been trapped in cage bars or exercise wheels are also common.”
“Healthy hedgehogs don’t need to be groomed and do a very good job of keeping themselves clean and tidy. Problems can arise in obese animals where they are unable to clean themselves properly. It is a good idea to handle your hedgehog every day to check for skin problems.”
If you’re lucky enough to see a hedgehog in the wild, don’t forget to take lots of photos and tag us @youngposthk